Hockey Day Preview: Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, and the 2007 draft

Back in 2007, there was a debate as to who the Chicago Blackhawks should select with their first overall draft choice. On the one hand, there was a small, skinny undersized American who was piling up points with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. On the other hand, there was the big power forward that looked great with the U.S. National under-18 team. Both were viewed as “can’t miss prospects.” And three years later, both players are proving the scouts right.

Patrick Kane’s meteoric rise to stardom is pretty straight-forward. He played with the United States Developmental Program for a few years until he moved to the OHL a year before his draft year. During his single year in juniors, Kane played alongside fellow blue-chip prospect Sam Gagner and put up astronomical numbers. In 58 games, he had 62 goals and 83 assists for 145 points. When Chicago picked him #1 overall, no one thought twice about their decision. When he entered the league as an 18-year-old and scored 72 points in his freshman campaign, it seemed pre-ordained.

Kane’s first year was only the beginning of his charmed NHL life. Following his Calder Trophy year, his team started to experience the same levels of success that he’d experienced individually. As part of the rebuilding project in the Windy City, the Blackhawks had assembled a stable of young forwards and defensemen that were the envy of the entire league. They were able to make it to the Western Conference Finals in 2009, only to fall to the more experienced (and defending Stanley Cup champion) Detroit Red Wings.

Kane scored a very respectable 14 points in 16 playoff games in 2009. But like his teammates, he learned some valuable lessons about raising the bar when the games meant the most. In 2010, the Blackhawks had matured into an elite team while finishing 2nd in the Western Conference with 112 points. Any thoughts that they’d fall short were quickly erased when they swept through San Jose and beat the Philadelphia Flyers in 6 games. And wouldn’t you know it; it would be Patrick Kane who would score that Cup winning OT goal in Game 6. Pre-ordained.

On the other side of that Cup winning goal was the man who went #2 overall in that 2007 draft. While Kane was celebrating his triumph, James van Riemsdyk was sitting on the Flyers bench at the end of a very different journey to the NHL.

While Kane had jumped on the fast track to the NHL, van Riemsdyk took a much more traditional route to the best league in the world. After the draft, the New Jersey native decided it would be best to head to Hockey East and the University of New Hampshire to continue his development. In his own words:

“In the NHL you must be able to play at both ends of the ice to really become an elite player in the League and that’s one area I really want to work on and keep getting better at so that I’m not considered a letdown in my own end. Once I take care of my own end, I can have some fun on offense.”

At UNH, van Riemsdyk showed the talent that made him the #2 pick. In 2007, he earned MVP honors at the U17 tournament. In 2008, he represented the United States and was the tournament’s leading scorer at the World Junior Championships. By any measure, he was a successful prospect that was showing the development and potential that any team would salivate over. As long as he wasn’t compared to Kane.

“We were both put in different situations and we were in different stages of our hockey development, and I did what I thought was best for me to be a better player.”

Even though Flyers fans and management expected him to start the 2009-10 season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, he was so impressive in training camp that he earned a spot on the opening day roster. Some people will argue that he made the jump too soon, and some people will argue that he needed to learn lessons in the NHL to become the player the Flyers hoped he’d be one day. He would show positive signs like when he won Rookie of the Month in November, but then he went through a few months that so many rookies deal with. 82 games is a long season—especially for a guy who was used to playing 30+ games each season.

This season, van Riemsdyk has almost as many goals as he did last season—in 26 fewer games. A 20 goal, 40 point season certainly isn’t out of the question for the 21-year-old. That’s right. He’s still only 21-years-old. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger—two key qualities for a power forward in the NHL. And considering the two-way game he’s already learned, he looks like he’s blossoming into the player everyone thought he’d be.

It’ll be great to see both players do their thing on Hockey Day in America. It’s no secret that Patrick Kane (and his mouth guard) will be the center of attention when Chicago takes the ice. But with each passing day, van Riemsdyk is proving that he can handle more and more responsibility. Regardless of their paths to the NHL and the differences in their play, they are both bright spots of hockey’s future and will shine for years to come.

Canucks GM wants Miller back, bringing rebuild into question again

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For one fine trade deadline, it seemed like the Vancouver Canucks and GM Jim Benning saw the light.

They actually moved veterans for assets, and interesting ones in that. They were, gasp, considered one of the winners of the trade deadline. There was the indication that a rebuild might finally be in action. Better late than never, right?

Well … maybe that was just a brief reprieve.

The Vancouver Province’s Ben Kuzma reports that Benning threw the word “competitive” around when describing why he wants to re-sign 37-year-old Ryan Miller and why he isn’t looking to trade valued defenseman Chris Tanev and declining blueliner Alex Edler.

Sensible if debatable

His reluctance regarding moving the two defensemen is easier to understand. Tanev, 27, is in his prime at a nice cap hit ($4.45 million through 2019-20). A competitive team would want him, and if Benning is convinced the Canucks are close to being just that, then it makes sense.

Edler staying is a little simpler. He has a no-trade clause and doesn’t want to go.

Now, one can argue that Tanev would be best served being moved for high-quality pieces. And perhaps Benning should at least try to convince Edler to accept a trade.

A strange direction in net

But Miller?

“As we’re transitioning these young players into our lineup, I feel that if we have solid goaltending on a night-to-night basis, we can be competitive,” Benning said Thursday, according to Kuzma.

Now, that story discusses why Miller may or may not accept a return, but one would guess that he won’t have a ton of offers. At least not offers that would involve a chance for more “platoon” or even starter-type work rather than explicitly labeling him a backup.

Really, that’s beside the point, because it’s confounding that Vancouver wouldn’t want to go in a younger direction.

You can read that sort of discussion as the Canucks once again wanting to have their cake and eat it too. They seemingly want to “reload” instead of “rebuild.”

Perhaps there’s some smoke-screening going on here. Maybe Benning’s more interested in moving parts than he lets on; it could be that he wants to drive up Tanev’s price by playing coy about moving him.

Still, on their face, the comments don’t exactly inspire confidence for a fan base that must be getting a little irritated by management that, to many, seems delusional about this team’s potential.

Penguins’ Sullivan believes resiliency is ‘strength of this team’

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz stood shoulder to shoulder at center ice as midnight approached, crowd on its feet, Prince of Wales Trophy in hand. Another shot at the Stanley Cup in the offing.

On the surface, it could have been a scene ripped from 2008 when the longtime Pittsburgh Penguin teammates earned their first crack at a championship together, the one that was supposed to be the launching pad for a dynasty.

A closer look at the weary, grateful smiles told a different story.

This team has learned over the last decade that nothing can be taken for granted. Not their individual greatness or postseason success, even for one of the NHL’s marquee franchises. Not the cohesion it takes to survive the crucible of the most draining championship chase in professional team sports or the mental toughness (along with a dash of luck) needed to stay on top once you get there.

So Crosby paused in the giddy aftermath of Pittsburgh’s 3-2 victory over Ottawa in Game 7 of the helter-skelter Eastern Conference finals to do something the two-time Hart Trophy winner almost never does. He took stock of the moment, aware of how fleeting they can be.

“Every series you look at, the margin for error is so slim,” Crosby said. “We’ve just continued to find ways and different guys have stepped up. We trust in that and we believe in that and whoever has come in the lineup has done a great job. That builds confidence. We’ve done it different ways, which is probably our biggest strength.”

And they’ll have to do it one more time in the final against swaggering Nashville if they want to become the first team in nearly 20 years and the first in salary-cap era to win back-to-back championships.

It’s a daunting task. When the puck drops in Game 1 on Monday night in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be playing in their 108th game in the last calendar year, and that doesn’t count another half dozen for those who played in the World Cup of Hockey and a handful of exhibition games.

Pittsburgh, however, has survived to do something even Chicago and Los Angeles – who have combined for five of the seven Cups awarded since 2010 – could not in putting itself in positon for a repeat.

Credit coach Mike Sullivan’s ever-prescient tinkering with the lineups, including his decision to throw Kunitz back into the fray with Crosby as Game 7 wore on, an experiment that ended with Crosby feeding Kunitz for the winner 5:09 into the second overtime .

Credit goaltender Matt Murray, thrust back into the lineup when Marc-Andre Fleury‘s hot play that helped carry the Penguins through the opening two rounds finally cooled.

Credit a maturity – or maybe it’s wisdom – from the team leaders who watched the first half of the decade come and go with plenty of gaudy regular-season numbers but no Cup banners to join the one they captured in 2009.

Pinning down what changed is difficult. General manager Jim Rutherford’s ability to remake the team on the fly to build one of the fastest lineups in the league helped. So did Sullivan’s ability to cut through the noise when he replaced the professorial Mike Johnston in December 2015.

Yet the Penguins understand there’s something else at work too, a resiliency and accountability they lacked while falling to lower-seeded teams every year from 2010-14.

“I believe that the resolve and the resilience of this team is the strength of this team,” Sullivan said.

Both were on full display in Game 7.

Kunitz, who missed the first-round series against Columbus with a lower-body injury, returned to see himself bumped from the first line to the fourth, scored his first two goals of the playoffs. Conor Sheary, a blurring revelation last spring who suddenly found himself a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 against the Senators, returned to set up Kunitz’s first goal .

Justin Schultz, who has assumed the as the minute-hogging, puck-moving defenseman role held by the injured Kris Letang, returned from his own health scare and scored a go-ahead goal in the third period.

If the Penguins were a force of nature last spring while earning the franchise’s fourth Cup, this one is more of a throwback. More blue collar. More anonymous.

Some of the key cogs that helped Pittsburgh get to this point – rookie forward Jake Guentzel, 37-year-old playoff newcomer Ron Hainsey and career grinder Scott Wilson – weren’t even around last spring. Yet they and so many others not named Crosby or Malkin have become equal partners in pursuit of a title.

“This year it’s been back and forth, it’s been tough,” Kunitz said. “We’ve had great individual performances. We had great goaltending. It’s something every night.”

It hasn’t been pretty. So what? Perhaps the biggest sign of the team’s growth is it has abandoned the pursuit of style points for something far more tangible. Like a 34-pound piece of hardware, one Pittsburgh has no intention of handing off anytime soon.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Breaking: Predators’ Laviolette has not tried Nashville’s ‘hot chicken’ yet

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Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette dropped a bombshell on “The Dan Patrick Show.” Some of us are still reeling from the revelation.

It turns out that Laviolette hasn’t tried “hot chicken” yet.

Laviolette explained that, if he had the “bird that bites back” before a game, he’d be on fire behind the bench. Sadly, Dan Patrick let him off the hook and didn’t ask “Well, what about off days, Lavi?”

(They might not be on a lazy hockey nickname basis yet, though, to be fair.)

All kidding aside, Laviolette provided more insight on the Predators’ Stanley Cup Final run – and not a lot more hot chicken hot takes – in the longer interview below.

Note: This post’s author may or may not have gone a year in Nashville without trying hot chicken either. Hey, Laviolette’s been there for three seasons now. Way worse.

‘Making Gretzky’s head bleed’ wasn’t so easy for ‘Swingers’ filmmaker

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Remember that classic (and very NSFW) video game hockey scene from “Swingers?” The one where Vince Vaughn espouses the virtues of Jeremy Roenick? It was pretty great, right?

There was something so organic about two friends getting up to video-game shenanigans (and discussing which 16-bit era game featured the best pixelated violence), but apparently it was easier to set the scene that it was to “make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed.”

The Ringer’s Achievement Oriented podcast caught up with Doug Liman (pictured with Jon Favreau in this post’s main image) for some hysterical background information on getting that highly amusing scene right.

“I had never actually seen Wayne Gretzky draw blood, but Vince [Vaughn] claimed he could do it repeatedly, so we put it in the script,” Liman said. “The actors are reacting to that. And then we’re editing the movie and I bring the [game console] into the editing room and we start playing it and we’re recording it onto a videotape so that when we get the one piece we need we’ll play that back on the TV and shoot it. [We do this] for, like, weeks. Nobody can draw blood. And I’m like [to] Nintendo, ‘Hey, can you give us the backdoor key to doing this?’ It wasn’t like we were having fun playing the game, because all we would do was pass the puck down and set it up for Gretzky to get the puck and then we would, you know, try to slam him into the boards.”

Like a rare athletic feat, they got it right, but don’t ask Liman to pull it off on a whim. Liman sure made it seem like they were lucky to ever commit that moment to film.

Liman explained that it was “infuriatingly fleeting” and not the sort of video game trick that you could make work over and over again once you learned the right combination of button presses.

This is some really funny, fantastic background information on the movie that launched the careers of Favreau and Vaughn. It also helped remind us of that golden 16-bit era of EA NHL games, whether you preferred NHL ’94, ’95, or ’96. (And so on.)

Liman also shares a very amusing story about how hockey video game skills don’t exactly translate to the real sport, so check out the transcript and the full podcast for more.

And, if you’re playing a modern game like NHL ’17, don’t pick on “Super Fan 87.” Be nice to your friends. That’s the money move.

Here’s the scene itself. Again, a warning: there is strong language and 16-bit “gore.”